Thursday 2 December 2021

The Fellowship Of The Upper Room.

Render Unto Caesar: What kind of Christian would attempt to persuade his brothers and sisters that the moral imperatives of their faith must not, under any circumstances, be given practical expression in the flesh-and-blood world they inhabit? To suggest, as Luxon does, that faith and politics can – and should – be separated, admits but one of two possible conclusions. Either he does not understand the obligations of a Christian. Or, he isn’t one.

THE FIRST QUESTION: “Is the ‘Upper Room’ a church? Strictly speaking, the answer is ‘No’. It is certainly a place of evangelical Christian fellowship, but if by ‘church’ you mean a dedicated house of worship, with a steeple, stained-glass windows, wooden pews and an ornately carved pulpit, then, no, the Upper Room is not a church. So, Christopher Luxon didn’t lie to RNZ’s Suzie Fergusson on Wednesday morning (1/12/21) when he said he hadn’t been in a church for five years.

Where I come from, however, we would call Luxon’s answer “Jesuitical” – meaning “practicing casuistry or equivocation; using subtle or oversubtle reasoning; crafty; sly; intriguing”. Why? Well just think about Luxon’s answer for a moment or two. Five years ago, Luxon’s political career was just a gleam in Prime Minister John Key’s eye. He was still at the helm of Air NZ, still earning more than $4 million per annum, and, almost certainly, still a key participant in the Fellowship of the Upper Room.

Why not admit frankly to his membership of the Upper Room? What is it about this Fellowship that prompts Luxon and his advisers to make as little of it as possible? The answer lies in the information unearthed by the sort of journalists who know where to go looking on the Internet for linkages between evangelical Christian fellowships and ambitious right-wing politicians. What those searches revealed was an Upper Room pastor of decidedly Trumpian sympathies, whose political views appeared to match those of the American Christian Right. Unsurprisingly, Luxon has done his utmost to put these “interesting” associations as far behind him as possible.

Indeed, his embarrassment is evident in the way he attempts to dissuade journalists from examining his Christian beliefs too closely. He told his first media conference as Leader of the Opposition that his faith had been “misrepresented and portrayed very negatively”. That personal faith, he declared was something that “has grounded me and put me into [a] context that is bigger than myself.” Anticipating the assembled journalists’ next question, he went on to clearly affirm his belief in the “separation of politics and faith”.

Now this is a rather peculiar formulation. Most people who had given the question serious thought would have used the more familiar formulation: the separation of Church and State. There are many sound historical and philosophical reasons for keeping the spiritual and temporal powers in their proper spheres. Theocracies are not comfortable places in which to live.

Jesus himself famously responded to the daunting challenges of power and piety with his wonderfully (and typically) enigmatic: “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.”

But keeping “faith” and “politics” separate? Well, that’s a very different matter. Many would argue that no Christian worthy of the name would ever attempt to do such a thing. Was Jesus keeping faith and politics separate when he scourged the money-changers and overturned their tables? When he cried out: “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves!” Was the Galilean carpenter keeping politics on the down-low when he told his followers: “[I]t is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!” (One can only speculate about how easy entering Heaven might be for the owner of seven houses!)

What kind of Christian would attempt to persuade his brothers and sisters that the moral imperatives of their faith must not, under any circumstances, be given practical expression in the flesh-and-blood world they inhabit? If the Almighty commands: “Thou shalt not kill.” Then, is it not incumbent upon a Christian legislator to make laws forbidding murder and manslaughter? (And Abortion?) To suggest, as Luxon does, that faith and politics can – and should – be separated, admits but one of two possible conclusions. Either he does not understand the obligations of a Christian. Or, he isn’t one.

Then again, it is possible that he is the sort of Christian that gave us the word I used earlier, “Jesuitical”.

The “Society of Jesus” – The Jesuits – were formed in 1540 to combat the “error” of Protestantism at a time when the Catholic Church and the followers of Martin Luther and his theological reformers were locked in mortal combat for the soul of Christendom. In the bitter religious and military conflicts arising out of the Catholic “Counter-Reformation”, the Jesuit Order became the equivalent of the Pope’s Navy SEALs – an elite ideological force in the defence of the one true faith. As is the case with so many elite units, the ends of the Jesuits’ spiritual combat missions were deemed sufficiently important to justify all manner of means.

Fast-forward to the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries, and Christianity is still a religion bitterly divided between those caught up in the struggle to determine what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God; and those who, heretically, have come to regard the purposes of God and the purposes of Caesar as one and the same.

The former see God’s marching-orders in Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount: and in God’s preferential option for the poor. The latter believe that God exercises his authority through those he chooses to lead a lost and sinful world. Crucially, these need not be good men. Was the murderer and adulterer, King David, a good man? God loved him, nonetheless. All that matters is that such men rise to positions from which the will of God can be made manifest. The American Christian Right understood immediately that Donald Trump wasn’t a good man. But, they believed with all their heart that he was God’s man.

Which of these two groups does Christopher Luxon belong to?

As the Taxpayers Union was quick to point out, a man who took a $4 million pay-cut to enter Parliament was clearly not doing it for the money! Interviewed on camera by Stuff, just hours after becoming the National Party’s new leader, Luxon traces his interest in politics to reading a biography of Winston Churchill – a man who, from an early age, was convinced that God/Destiny had a special purpose for him. The biographies of “great men” have shaped Luxon’s understanding of both business and politics. If the Taxpayers Union is right, and he’s not in Parliament for the money, then why is he there? For the power?

Luxon insists that his goal is to restore National to the paths of moderation. If true, then we must wish him well. But I can’t help recalling his difficulty in responding to Suzie Fergusson’s questions about his faith. To be an evangelical Christian is to be a proud proclaimer of Christ’s “good news” to “all the nations”. No Christian politician should ever be tongue-tied when challenged to declare his mission. Jesus’s “Order of the Day” has not changed in 2,000 years:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ and, love your neighbour as yourself.”

The only world worth fighting for politically, and the only world worth living in, is the world in which Caesar marches to the same order.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 2 December 2021.


Anonymous said...

A leader leads by example; not by force..... a quality many socialists and no communist understands.
Hail Luxon. May his Christian values bear future fruit for NZ.

Brick said...

Matthew 7:5 - Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye;
and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye.

Do not be blinded by your own ideology perhaps?

Odysseus said...

The Left are clearly rattled. Luxon is a beacon of competence and moderation against an increasingly chaotic and oppressive regime.

As for religion and politics, Someone put it like this two thousand years ago:

"Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's"

Jens Meder said...

But is not the crucial message of the New Testament Gospel - Love ( in unemotional terms - RESPECT) - thy neighbor ?

CXH said...

Jesuitical is surely a requirement for politicians these days, Jacinda is certainly a master.

As for Luxon's Christianity being such a downside, surely the same could be said about Jacinda's love of socialism. She has certainly done her best to pretend it is no longer a thing and a compliant media has supported her in this wish.

Mike Grimshaw said...

If we seriously look at the role of religion, faith and belief in modern secular society then it is far more nuanced than most understand or even wish it it be. A secular society has a separation of religion from the public square and a separation of church and state.In this, religion is a private matter and in fact the vast majority of evangelicals, Catholics, Pentecostals and mainstream protestants follow this. It is not a case of a true evangelical 'MUST/SHOULD' do x or y or they are not a true christian; nor a case of 'true' Christianity involves x or y, for there never has been a singular, true Christianity, nor a singular true evangelicalism, or Catholicism, or Presbyterianism, Anglicanism etc. Yes of course there are orthodox beliefs and orthopraxis- claimed true actions- that the institutions may state is true belief or true action. But the reality is the individual believer makes an ongoing set of customizations, changes, nuances and decisions- and always has done. Otherwise we get into a secular version of the inquisition where the secular proclaim of the believer, you are not a true believer because you do not align with what we believe a true believer is and you don't do what we believe a true believer does.

What many seem to want in NZ is a secularist society which is actively anti-religious. Or, rather, it seems, anti-Christian(or anti-certain forms of Christianity).
What is fascinating is how outraged so many seem to be that Luxon has a faith and faith that many don't agree with. Yet I would suggest that many members of parliament have beliefs (religious,spiritual,new age, dogmatic atheist) - across all political parties- that, if they were to be made public and grilled on them, could raise concern from different sectors across the spectrum. And then, if we are serious, we should extend this to all public figures and especially Boards of Trustees of schools, school teachers, judges, lawyers, police (Andrew Coster is a evangelical) , doctors etc etc.
Of course then we get into a religious form of the McCarthyite witch hunt... and do we extend to Māori beliefs, Jewish ones, Muslim ones, Sikh, Buddhist, Hindu, Mormon... and then onto the realms of pagan and new age ones.... are those who are aggressively atheist secularists the only ones we should trust... or only those whose beliefs can align with either a left wing or conversely right wing politics....? And then do we discount any remaining existentialists, or any remaining communists or Marxists or any postmodernists or Lacanians or Freudians or critical theorists or neoliberals or right-wing social democrats and only allow left wing logical positivists a public role....?

In many ways NZ is still caught in a populist form of the secularization thesis that was discounted and repudiated by scholars of religion, sociologists and the like at the end of the 20th century. For Religion (in both explicit and implicit forms) is part of all societies and NZ's anti-religious secularist attitudes are not representative of the rest of the world - not even of many other western societies.

Durkheim interlinked society and religion and central to this was totem. Jacinda Ardern is very much a totem that many NZers seem to believe in; just like John Key was a similar totemic figure, and Helen Clark, as were David Lange, Muldoon, Norm Kirk, Keith Holyoake and Michael Joseph Savage. Political party leaders are totemic figures who also need Weber's charisma.
Is the fear that Luxon may indeed be a successful totemic figure with charisma...?

oneblokesview said...

Couldnt resist the attempted put down of Christopher Luxon. huh.
A self made man who has decided to put something back to his community/country.

But I guess the tall poppy syndrome is still alive in Bowalley Road

Brendan McNeill said...


I too would have liked Chris Luxton to have been more forthright in the defence of his Christian faith, and I agree that the separation of ‘faith and politics’ is a little weird. Everyone is animated by a belief system of some kind, either consciously or unconsciously. It’s best for everyone if we know what faith or faithless ideology animates our political leaders.

The separation of Church and State grew out of a theological framework most clearly articulated by the Dutch Calvinist theologian and Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Abraham Kuyper. He outlined a framework of ‘sphere sovereignty’ in which several self governing entities existed in society, in relationship to each other. They were primarily the family, the church, other voluntary institutions and the state. For anyone of these self governing spheres to exercise dominion or control over the other constituted a form of tyranny. Examples would be the state appointing bishops in the church, or the church mandating civil laws.

Clearly there is always some overlap in these spheres, the state could intervene in the family if there was domestic violence and civil laws were broken etc., but the idea that each of these spheres was self governing is an important construct, and one that we appear to be at risk of losing in the West as the State assumes increasing control over both the church (mandates) and the family (so called conversation therapy).

It’s easy to critique Chris’ wealth, but you have no idea how much he gives to charity, and how many of his seven houses are filled by families or individuals as yet unable to purchase a house of their own. Landlords provide a valuable service and are human beings too.

Finally, to echo your admonition to love the Lord with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength, it’s worth considering Proverbs 14:34 “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people”. This ancient proverb holds the key to our future failure or prosperity. We could do worse than have a Prime Minister like Abraham Kuyper who understood this.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Kennedy had the guts to mention that he wouldn't let his faith interfere with the running of America. Probably necessary for him given that he was a Catholic in an overwhelmingly Protestant country at the time. I wouldn't trust this guy as far as I could throw him, because fundagelicals always feel that Christianity should be part of government and the legal system. Pity we don't have some formal separation of church and state like the US.

James Mahoney said...

Sophistry is another good word for that sort of hair-splitting evasion.

James Mahoney said...

PS, well spotted.

Barry said...

Chris – by half way through your column I had developed a vision of this imaginary swamp. Being imaginary of course it could be a bit different – and this swamp had stones in it. My imagined swamp had you in it desperately rushing around lifting up all the stones and looking underneath them while mumbling to yourself “Theres got to be something here somewhere”

Theres little doubt that after a day or so in his new position Luxon has certainly had to answer some of the most stupid question about his religious connections. They are Christian beliefs.
But I don’t recall either you or anyone in the media asking similar questions of the Muslims in Parliament. Muslims have a Holy duty to convert or eliminate the non-Muslims in the world. I think there are at least 4 or 5 Muslim MPs.
Besides this lot there have been several MPs with weird and wonderful belief ideas over the years – but again I don’t recall anyone asking questions of the effects they may have on society.
In the wider area of beliefs we have quite a few MPs who really want to impose their ideas onto all of us. Plenty of wacky ideas emanate from the Greens. Even Labour has its fair share of evil ideas – one being Poto Williams who wanted conversation in the home to be subject to criminal prosecution. And then of course we have the ever present specter of Socialism stalking around the upper floors of the Parliament building. Socialism is an economic and political system where individual advancement is discouraged or even prevented.

I don’t know of the details of Luxons actual religious beliefs but if we all lived life by the ideals of one of Christianity's better ideas - Ten Commandments - the country would be a really good place to be (with the word Government replacing the word God in the first commandment).

As the old saying goes – “one thinks thee protest too much”

greywarbler said...

Joihn way back reported Jesus' direction like this which I think covers everything.

John.13. [34] A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.KJV

A lot of men are called John. If they all vow to follow the ancient John's report we may have a breakthrough to a better world!

Simon Cohen said...

Interesting comments Chris. I wonder if you would have written it if Luxon was a Muslim. Also I wonder if the news media would have questioned Luxon on his faith to the same extent if he was a Muslim.
As a non practicing Jew who is also an atheist I do find it amazing that a politician's faith is of such importance to both the news media and commentators.

Kat said...

"The Fellowship Of The Upper Room" the new brass name plate on the door of the National opposition white caucus room with black curtains.....

And somewhere down the corridor playing loud:

Shane McDowall said...

Aunty Cindy will win the next election.

Chris Luxton will be turfed out as leader sometime after the next election.

Hopefully voters will realise that David Seymour is the bastard child of Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson.

National does not just have an empty petrol tank, it has no petrol tank.

Phil said...

Journalists don't have the slightest inclination to go digging into matters with significant constitutional implications such as He Puapua. However a sniff of Christianity or a couple of rental properties and no stone is left unturned to find the truth.

Wayne Mapp said...

I agree with the general premise the issue of Chris Luxon's faith is a legitimate matter for consideration. People are entitled to know how the faith of the Leader of a major political party will influence their approach to government. Luxon has understood this very well. It was a major feature of his Maiden Speech where he specifically stated his faith would not be a factor in his approach to public policy.

As Leader, Chris Luxon deliberately chose Nicola Willis as his deputy. That was a clear signal that his faith was a private matter, not part of his approach to public policy. He has also made it very clear that the abortion laws would be unchanged. This latter point is important. No political leader in the US Republican Party would make such a statement. Indeed they would say the opposite. Luxon fully understands that NZ society is different.

In my view, Chris Luxon has successfully dealt with the issue of religion. You can legitimately assess him on the policy statements he has made. Also read his Maiden Speech. He is a centrist, probably more so than John Key. I expect he will have taken on board Jim Bolger's comment on inequality and opportunity. From what I have seen this will be an important issue for Luxon.

The Barron said...

I twice heard himself as an extrovert. If anyone was more Roundhead than Cavalier it would be Luxon. What did he do as an extrovert? Wear a checkered tie to Rotary? Show off a booming baritone in Church? Attend Caucus dressed as a Sontaran?

Reading the comments on Chris' article, I think many have misread. It is not that Luxon is a Christian, but it is what type of Christian and how this will transpire in political policy? This is genuine enquiry, especially as Pentecostal businessman Prime Minister Scott Morrison is introducing his pet project, the Religious Discrimination Bill into the lower house across the ditch. This is legislation designed to empower the religious to discriminate against minorities that have previously enjoyed human rights protection. I have yet to hear Luxon questioned on this real world implantation of the type of Christianity he purports to follow.

We should remember, he was a Catholic for whom the inheritor of the inquisition, Cardinal Ratzinger was not conservative enough as Pope for Luxon to go shopping for more hardline religious reactionary doctrine in the evangelical faith. It is of importance to understand his world view as to whether he is a Biblical literalist or not. Does he accept that the duality of Leviticus Law was rest by Pauline doctrine in Galatians 3:28? Is he tolerant, discriminatory or dogmatic?

Like his Australian counterpart, religious zealotry is a subject that should be analyzed. Platitudes from Luxon parroting American Church and State is not enough. The role of Leader of the Opposition is one which should come with transparency if belief and faith (as opposed to rational fact analysis) will impact policy,

greywarbler said...

Quite a lot of believers here in the right wing aspects of Christianity. A version of the religion that has gone through a twist that allows for wealthy or at least, comfortably off, adherents. If God showers wealth on you then you are on the righteous path.

And his name is Luxon. Jo Luxton is Labour MP for Rangitata, S.I. “I believe education is the most transformative influence in our lives – it is the one that overcomes every disadvantage with which a child might begin life.” (Early childhood education). Timaru and Ashburton office.

Also John Luxton (former National MP) was a farmer from Ashburton! (recently top banana in dairy machinations). stuff item 16/11/2021 — Luxton entered Parliament in 1987, winning the seat of Matamata. The electorate was reconfigured as Karapiro in 1996 and was held by Luxton ...

Bubbles 1 said...

Exactly one wonders what exactly are they scared of or just maybe it's the only thing they could find under a stone they could possibly gain some levelridge with so they ran with it . grasping at straws.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Well, the usual grab bag of half-truths and statements with no evidence at all from "rightists". One particularly stupid one about He Pua Pua, which could be contradicted by about 10 seconds of googling whereupon I found all sorts of journalists "digging in" to the constitutional implications – but whatever. As far as Muslims go, I for one will be questioning their adherence to the secular state as soon as they become the leader of one of our major political parties. But can you imagine the fuss from the right if one actually did? "We'll all be forcibly converted in our beds"
And who ever said it seems to forget that Christians also have an obligation to convert the rest of the world at least some of the 45,000+ sects of Christianity do. Questioning someone's religious influence on politics is not hating religion. I've said this lot of times – keep your religion out of my laws and your proselytisers off my front doorstep, and do what the hell you like I don't care. Because if we look at the US with the religious fundamentalist influence in their Supreme Court and the implications for women's reproductive rights, we secular people have every right to be worried.

Unknown said...

Grow up shane

Shane McDowall said...

Blow me.

sumsuch said...

Just from your sub-headline, the chap was talking about how bloody awful his people are in Oz and America. So on point. You explicate how christianity is supposed to be for the best values yet he has to say he won't bring it to the public picture. Dimmo doesn't understand what he's saying about his point of view.

Many of our best people are dim. And it's a trope among business people in my experience. Concentrating on producing wiggle-woggles makes you a reactionary when you at last poke your head up to see the society in which you produced such. The chap has no ideas worth not laughing at by idea people. He has to do better than Key, who was just a 9 year delay. He has to disprove his faith. Or prove it if ...

aj said...

Luxon's interview on Morning report 1st Dec, what he wouldn't say was more important than what was revealed in that conversation.

He said he "...really wanted to explain it..." then proceeded to duck and weave and not explain much, despite having been offered the chance.

"...people take my faith and use it against me in weird and interesting ways and use it negatively against me..."

".....I haven't been to a church for 5 years, or a regular church for 5 years.....".

The interviewer missed the obvious follow-up question. What irregular church did he attend?

He wouldn't answer whether he believed in a literal translation of the bible, in miracles, or speaking in tongues. The only take from his awkward response was yes, he does on both counts. If it was a straight no, it should have been easy to say, but a yes puts him right at the conservative extreme of religious beliefs.

I think Chris's take is pretty much right, and recommend watching 'The Family' on Netflix.

"The Family is an American documentary streaming television miniseries that premiered on Netflix on August 9, 2019. The series examines a conservative Christian group—known as the Family or the Fellowship—its history, and investigates its influence on American politics"

It is made clear in that series that it's influence extends well beyond American politics.

sumsuch said...

Appreciate your input, Wayne Mapp. We've been better than most but the poorest, neediest, Maori-est have suffered needlessly from inequality for the freemarket experiment these ... how many decades now ? In the case of Maori it was a sin.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"Blow me"? Alright it's an Americanism, but how does that fit in with:

"The blogosphere tends to be a very noisy, and all-too-often a very abusive, place. I intend Bowalley Road to be a much quieter, and certainly a more respectful, place.
So, if you wish your comments to survive the moderation process, you will have to follow the Bowalley Road Rules.
These are based on two very simple principles:
Courtesy and Respect.
Comments which are defamatory, vituperative, snide or hurtful will be removed, and the commentators responsible permanently banned."

Chris Trotter said...

To: Guerilla Surgeon.

Well, GS, it doesn't.

Sometimes, however, I think it useful to let Bowalley Road's readers know just how strange the Right can be - and how rude!

petes new write said...

A very good post. You certainly had some time on your hands. Its all about power with Luxon, the money will come later with the influences of those around him. However, when National loses the next election as they will, it will be goodbye to Luxon and a sixth leader. Mark Mitchell s being very quiet and patient.